Bootstrapping To 10 Million — The Story Of Kovai.co
A bootstrapped company led by a technical founder with no business background isn’t the typical description of a successful 8+ figure Saas business. Yet, Saravana Kumar used this exact formula to build Kovai.co.
Kovai.co is a leading enterprise organization powering top companies worldwide, including the BBC, Novartis, and Pfizer. In barely a decade, the company has become an industry heavyweight with:
- 240+ members
- 2,000+ customers
- 5 products
- Several recognitions, including The Economic Times Startup Award as the 2021 Bootstrap Champ
…and the train isn’t slowing down any time soon.
How did Kovai make it here today?
Userpilot interviewed Saravana Kumar, the founder and CEO of Kovai.io, about his story.
- Kovai.co started as BizTalk 360 in June 2011.
- By leveraging content marketing and a solid professional network, Saravana Kumar grew the company from 0 to 250 customers.
- In 2013/2014, the company began scaling rapidly and moved to India to accelerate its growth.
- Presently, Kovai.co is the umbrella organization for 5 successful enterprise products: BizTalk360, Document 360, Severless360, Atomic Scope, and Cerebrata, which the business acquired in 2019.
How it started
BizTalk server specialist, Saravana Kumar, moved to London in the year 2000. He kickstarted a successful career as an IT consultant, working with companies like Microsoft, Accenture, and Fidelity. Over his ten-year career, Saravana discovered several gaps in the BizTalk server technology, especially in security monitoring.
In 2010, he decided to build a product to solve these issues. In his words, “I went to a manager at the time, and I told him I wanted to build this solution.”
It took another 18 months of hard work, but by June 2011, Saravana finally launched the first version of his product, BizTalk360.
Gaining initial traction
Anyone can sit down and build a product. But gaining acceptance from the market and acquiring customers is the bigger challenge.
In the same year of its launch, Saravana closed on 5 inbound enterprise customers for BizTalk360. This isn’t the typical trajectory for a new product, so how did he make it happen?
A few things helped here. For instance, since 2004, Saravana had been writing about the Microsoft BizTalk technology on his blog. Back then, he had no idea that the blog would become a primary customer acquisition channel for a product he would launch in the future. Its initial purpose was to share deep, technical content about the complex challenges Saravana encountered as an IT consultant and the practical solutions to these problems.
“I just wanted everybody to benefit from my knowledge,” he said.
The blog helped Saravana to connect with a niche audience interested in enterprise cloud technology. Anybody searching for information related to the Microsoft BizTalk server found relevant content on the platform. Fast-forward to 2011 — the blog had grown to 15,000 dedicated readers, bringing lots of online awareness to the newly-launched product.
While writing helpful content on his personal blog, Saravana also attended many conferences and speaking engagements regarding the BizTalk server technology. These efforts earned him the prestigious Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award in 2007. With this recognition came lots of access to the Microsoft ecosystem, plus personal recommendations within the enterprise cloud industry.
Scaling the company
BizTalk360 started as a one-person business and remained that way for some time. During the period that the organization grew from 5 to 35 customers, Saravana handled every aspect of the business, from building and shipping core features to managing accounts and customer support.
After some time, he decided to hire a team of five who worked from the living room of his London apartment. Together, they would grow the business from 35 customers to 250 customers in just 2 years.
Still, there was room for more growth.
“By 2013/2014, I realized there’s a big opportunity in this industry. We were closing large customers like Ikea and Mercedes. That’s when I said, well, how do we want to scale this company?”
What followed was a thoroughly laid out plan to grow the company’s operations.
Since it was uneconomical to scale the business in London, Saravana turned to his home country, India. He set up a 20-people office in Coimbatore, which grew into a 60-seater office in 2015. The team remained in that space until 2020 when they moved into an office with a 300-people capacity.
After developing and shipping more products, Saravana decided to choose an umbrella name for a parent company that would house all the products built by the team. Following the needed deliberations, he adopted the name Kovai.co.
Right now, BizTalk360 operates under Kovai.co as one of the company’s 5 core products. Others are Document 360, Severless360, Atomic Scope, and Cerebrata, which the business acquired in 2019.
Like BizTalk360, most of the ideas for the other products sprung up organically when Saravana noticed that something was missing in the market. For example, Document360 was built to house complex documentation. This was in response to a challenge the engineering team experienced when writing documentation for one of their enterprise products.
Despite its outstanding success, Kovai.co has had its fair share of typical business challenges.
“Finding good human resources is one of them,” Sarvana said. Another challenge has been the number of competitors and the cost of acquiring new customers.
Nevertheless, these challenges prove that Kovai.co is growing, and Saravana is ready to take them on.
Organizational and product structure
With five (5) successful products, it’s pretty interesting to learn how Saravana Kumar manages Kovai. co’s overall structure.
The company adopts an interdependent organizational model. Certain functions like people management and accounts are central, while specific product strategy and development happen separately.
Every product operates as an independent entity led by a product owner. The product owner takes charge of strategy and the overall development direction. Interestingly, Saravana doubles as the company’s CEO and the product owner for BizTalk360.
Every Kovai.co product goes after a new audience without depending solely on the existing customer base. In Saravana’s words: “we don’t build new products with the hope of selling to our existing customer base. Right from the beginning, we know we are going after new customers. That’s how it has always been.”
Marketing and customer acquisition
Organic channels drive a significant part of Kovai.co’s customer acquisition strategy. Over time, the company has built an extensive knowledge base that constantly attracts people looking for the solutions it offers. It also pushes content on social media platforms like Linkedin and Facebook to get in front of prospective customers.
According to the CEO: “we’ve been publishing really good content since the beginning, so that’s a big channel for client acquisition.” But this doesn’t erase the need for businesses to invest in a well-grounded sales team at some point.
In addition, the company uses physical events to grow its brand and connect with businesses in the enterprise software development ecosystem. For instance, Kovai.co exhibited at Saas stock in 2019 in Dublin, Ireland.
The Next Big Plan
What will the future of Kovai.co look like? With the upcoming launch of its new customer success solution, one thing is sure: Saravana is looking to push past the ceiling of the company’s present success.
Its current products have lots of potentials, and he plans to scale them substantially. The company also has an ambitious target of tripling its revenue within the next 2 to 3 years and would continue to work towards this goal in 2022.
Whether you own a VC-funded business or if you’re bootstrapping your company to profitability, every entrepreneur can learn a thing or two from Saravana Kumar’s successful strategy.
To recap, here are a few actionable tips from Kovai. co’s playbook:
- First, identify a problem. Then build a product that solves that problem.
- Invest in creating valuable content.
- Focus on providing practical solutions to your audience’s pain points.
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